Uprooted from our Native Soil: A Two-Person show asks timely questions about nature and sustainability
Substance and Increase: Shinji Turner-Yamamoto and Gabriela Albergaria at Sapar Contemporary
February 15 to April 22, 2017
9 North Moore Street, between West Broadway and Varick Street
New York City, saparcontemporary.com
Do artists have a responsibility to define humanity’s relationship towards the natural world? As invisible forces diminish the sustainability of our environment, we are all asked to reevaluate our destructive relationship to the world. This feels more vital than ever during these tumultuous times, with the growing threats of climate change denial and defunding of environmental research. Substance and Increase, an exhibition at Sapar Contemporary curated by Gregory Volk, showcases multiple projects by Shinji Turner-Yamamoto and Gabriela Albergaria that engage with the environment and socio-political climate without resorting to didacticism. The works on display do not directly align with preconceived notions of “the natural” and “the artificial”: The money green of Albergaria’s perspectival tree drawings and Yamamoto’s use of gold leaf may appear ostentatious, but their thoughtfulness undresses any such illusionism. Instead, they present a dynamic relationship between the physical environment and invisible forces – global capital, migration, and geological time – that shape our interaction with it.
Situated to the left of the gallery entrance, Yamamoto’s Constellaria series simultaneously places the viewer in the present and the past. Spanning vast gaps of ecological time, each of these surfaces compresses a large expanse of time into a single object. Their haptic surfaces utilize materials as varied as 450 million year old fossil dust, clay, and gold leaf, and are surrounded by cultured crystals erupting from the walls. These works visually echo Yamamoto’s Sidereal Silence (2016) project, a series of “paintings” that are indexical to the sites in which they were created. Immersed in a Yellow Springs, Ohio stream, the iron deposits left from the water’s unique ebb and flow effectively drew Sidereal Silence: Chalybeate #18 (2016). Marks made by the artist’s hands are, in Yamamoto’s work, barely distinguishable from those made by the environment. By growing crystals directly on the residue of human activity, such as formations of coal ash or plaster fragments from a deconsecrated church, his artworks emerge from the cooperation of artificial and organic, the aggregates suggesting man-made production as the new frame of reference for the natural.
Hung on the wall across from Yamamoto’s combinations of canvas and crystal, Gabriela Albergaria’s text based work reads, and is titled, MOST OF US ARE TRANSPLANTS UPROOTED FROM OUR NATIVE SOIL.(2016), directly confronting the viewer’s origins and asking the viewer to consider their own movements in light of contemporary immigration issues. Two more of Albergaria’s drawings, Distance between a Liriodendron Tulipifera (USA) and a Sugar Maple (Canada) at Brooklyn Botanic Garden (2017), and The Space Between a Sweet Gum (E. USA) and Another Sweet Gum (E. USA) at Brooklyn Botanic Garden (2016-2017) gently prod the concepts of being “native” as opposed to “foreign”. These drawings, meticulously hashed out in an off-key dark green, depict neighboring trees from different locations across the world growing towards each other, competing for resources as they arc towards the canopy and inevitably threaten their mutual existence.
On the gallery’s lower level, Yamamoto’s Pentimenti #56 (2017) is a golden aggregate made from fragments salvaged from an abandoned chapel in Ohio. Crystals, dragon’s blood, and gold leaf all imitate a priceless mineral, but it was actually assembled by Yamamoto; the artificial masquerading as the natural. Similar clusters of gilded debris hang in a row high up on the adjacent wall, reimagining abandoned detritus as sanctified icons. What was once discarded has been given affectionate care and ornamentation, calling on us to consider things so easily dismissed, and to acknowledge the function it once served for us.
Through Albergaria’s drawings of indigenous and foreign flora, and Yamamoto’s cultured crystals, this exhibition encourages us to reflect upon how our own origin stories are not always as simple as they may appear. Although the artists have different approaches to deconstructing the natural and native, the intersection of these methods sparks dialogue between both artists’ works. This bilateral response to artificiality prompts us to question reality and authenticity in relation to our environment and, maybe, ourselves.